Why Client Communication and Education Remains one of the Biggest Obstacles in SEO in 2020
During this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses have been forced to review their marketing budgets and make some necessary adjustments. This includes trimming back on monthly expenses, and making decisions regarding what to continue to invest in from a marketing perspective.
As an SEO provider, trying to keep clients updated on everything that has been completed each month, and why those tasks and implementations are important, has always been one of the leading challenges. Communicating everything that has been completed, from analyzing data and competitors, to various on-page SEO implementations, can be an obstacle for two reasons: 1) it’s almost impossible to document everything that has been completed, and 2) explaining why those implementations and tasks were important almost always goes in one ear and out the other when you’re working with clients who don’t fully understand what SEO is.
What is SEO?
SEO isn’t focusing on 5-10 keywords, improving rankings, and calling it a month while your monthly client retainers come pouring in.
There are so many different aspects of SEO that most agencies have dedicated teams in place to manage multiple facets of such a complex marketing campaign. Just a few of these different aspects:
- Website development
- Content development
- Outreach/PR strategy
- Local/Google My Business
- Technical SEO
As a small agency, we manage clients’ websites and their full-scale web marketing efforts. This includes website maintenance, hosting, on-page SEO, off-page SEO (link and citation building, inbound link profile optimization, etc.), content development, conversion optimization, local strategy, advanced SEO (schema.org implementation, load time optimization, etc.), the number of different factors related to managing a client’s website and SEO efforts can seemingly grow each day.
It’s difficult enough for SEO’s to continue to have a full grasp on all local and organic SEO ranking factors as Google continues to evolve. Trying to educate clients on SEO, which is inevitable whenever you give clients a break-down of tasks completed each month, can be one of the more stressful aspects of an SEO campaign. You can show clients how keyword rankings and organic traffic improves, but if they don’t understand what you’re doing each month, it leads to confusion and questions regarding the ROI of our SEO efforts.
It can be pretty frustrating to be honest. I have had clients stay with me for 8+ years. They gave me time to show them results, trusted the advice and information I gave them, and appreciated the organic growth that we have helped them to obtain. But for every client who wants to form a long-term strategic partnership, there are five clients who want immediate results because they see SEO as a short-term solution to “making the phone ring”. They want to know, in detail, what you’re working on every month, and when they don’t understand, you end up spending an abundance of time trying to educate them on SEO. This may not sound like a big deal, and you might be thinking to yourself “why wouldn’t you want your clients to know more about your service?”, but unfortunately sometimes it isn’t that simple.
If you’re working with a marketing manager or someone in-house who has some kind of understanding of websites, search engines, or technology in general, then your life will likely be a lot easier. But the majority of the time, especially in the legal field, you’re working with solo attorneys or managing partners who aren’t as knowledgeable. You end up spending the majority of your time and mental energy trying to combat negative and confusing issues, educating clients on SEO 101, and each month seemingly trying to justify your monthly SEO spend, all while trying to run an agency and manage other clients which can lead to “burnout”.
SEO Isn’t Traditional Marketing
Print advertising, social media marketing, radio and TV advertising, and other traditional advertising and marketing channels are nowhere near as complex as SEO.
Because in SEO you’re battling both your competitors and Google. You’re trying to prove to Google that your website and business are more trustworthy than your competitors. In traditional advertising, the amount of visibility your campaign receives is usually dependent on adspend and grassroots promotion. In SEO, you’re trying to improve your business’ visibility by doing more than your competitors, and staying up-to-date on the constantly evolving algorithm that is Google.
Even as an SEO consultant who has been doing this for 15 years, I am still sometimes left dumbfounded when a client’s search engine rankings suddenly drop off. These decreases could have been a result of:
- Lost inbound links
- New potentially negative inbound links
- Inconsistent information in Local (phone number changed, location/proximity changed)
- Server downtime
- New duplicate content pages
- Website load times (maybe a new script was installed on the site and the website loads 10 seconds slower)
- Google algorithm update
Just to name a few. So in addition to managing clients and hoping to find a balance between clients who see the value, and clients who have questions every month and seemingly want to know how you’re spending your time, putting out fires and battling the constantly evolving algorithm that is Google and Google local has been one of the biggest obstacles over the last 15 years.
Do You Still Enjoy SEO?
I originally started doing SEO in 1998. I ran a website selling “designer” fabric….Gucci, Burberry, Fendi, etc. I sold it by the yard to car upholstery shops and clothing stores. And I put “designer” in quotations because it was all imported from China, and was far from authentic. That being said, I made this clear on the website.
I taught myself SEO from 1998-2001 as I obtained top rankings on Yahoo! and Altavista for keywords related to my website. These were in the golden days when link building was basically the Wild Wild West, meaning that anything went.
But it wasn’t “duping” search engines that got me excited about SEO. It was the opportunity. The fact that there were millions of people out there looking to access the “World Wide Web”, and search engines were almost certainly going to be their starting point for accessing the services, products, or information they were searching for.
Fast forward to 2020 and that excitement still remains. Google can be extremely stressful, just this past week they had a “glitch” in their search engine algorithm that led to extreme amounts of stress and anxiety. Their algorithm changes a few times each year, and with the number of people referring to themselves as “SEO experts” and marketing agencies offering SEO increasing 100x each month, it can be a very challenging profession to be in, especially during Covid-19.
However, the opportunity to help small businesses grow is something I’ll always be excited about. My parents were both small business owners. My father owned a commercial flooring company throughout my entire life, and I grew up understanding the value of networking and establishing relationships for a B2B business. My mother owned a small gym in our hometown of Clinton, MD and I learned early about grassroots marketing and lead generation for a small B2C local business. My brother and I used to help her design fliers and would go and put them on car windshields a few times a month. We would watch how different advertising and marketing campaigns (Pennysaver, local Church bulletins, shopping cart ads, etc.) provided an ROI. We learned the value of referrals and how providing a service to the local community that others see a value in would naturally help to grow the business, before the days of leaving a Google or Yelp review to improve online reputation management.
That desire to help businesses grow and improve their lead generation efforts is still there. There are just a lot more obstacles and daily issues.
Educating clients has always been one of the biggest issues when it comes to managing an SEO campaign, however in 2020 more businesses have been taken advantage of by promising immediate results, not doing what they promised, and setting false expectations. The solution to the problem is to find more clients who see the value in the service you provide, and being in a position where you can be more selective in the projects you work on. However, during Covid, there is a lot more of a challenge as marketing budgets are cut back.
One thing I learned from both of my parents’ entrepreneurial ventures growing up is that you’ll never keep everyone happy. All you can do is try your best, offer value, and hope others see that your time is worth investing in. Don’t undersell or try to compete by making your product or service less expensive. If a time consuming client needs to be let go, then it’s time for them to go. If a potential client only wants to try you out for 3 or 4 months to see how things go, your time and expertise aren’t being valued.
Only work with clients who see the value in the services you provide. It isn’t your job to play retention manager every month because the client’s in a bad mood, or doesn’t want to take the time to review the information you sent him or her.
You’re a service provider, not a teacher. Rely on third-party resources such as articles and blog posts written by industry experts when clients have questions. If you spend the majority of your mental energy answering basic questions and trying to convince your client every month why investing in SEO is a good idea, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle, and you’ll almost certainly eventually experience burnout.
“The customer is always right” was a phrase that started in the early 80’s. This is 2020, and while your customer service needs should always be focused on the customer, there are plenty of clients out there who won’t value your time or expertise.
If you don’t appreciate your own value, why would you expect clients to?